Theresa May today triggers Article 50 in both London and Brussels which will begin proceedings for Europe’s response to Britain following its Brexit vote last year.
With individuals and businesses still speculating what Brexit will mean for them, perhaps the most apt description of the situation would come from a 1992 quote from former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relating to the Iraq war: "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."
Figuring out the impact of a Brexit on the labour market before Article 50 is triggered is like getting your head around that particular mind-scrambling quote. But acting like an ostrich just results having to fight a war you're not prepared for. In the world of recruitment, Brexit could see the biggest war for talent ever among British businesses, and the fact that it may not erupt for anything from two to ten years is no excuse not to be looking ahead.
Whether a good, bad or indifferent Brexit, it should be seen from now as a prospective challenge and an opportunity to at the very least clean house, and at worst prep as if a labour apocalypse is imminent. Uncertainty over the future can cripple business, or, business can take decisions today based on the known knowns rather than bemoaning the unknown unknowns that will only serve to keep them stagnant.
One thing to remember is that there are a number of laws deriving from EU legislation that could come up for review or repeal post-Brexit. And although some tinkering is expected, overall employers are not opposed to most aspects of EU legislation. Depending on the final Brexit deal and if the UK still wants access to the single market, it will have to satisfy at the very least, fundamental rights within the labour force. This coupled with some strong existing national laws on workers’ rights should guarantee the UK does not time-travel back to the Victorian era.
Tips for anticipating the unknown unknowns
- Get educated first of all on the possible Brexit scenarios and, if your business has never had to deal with worker immigration issues, learn how it works and what the additional costs and time factors could be
- If possible put together a Brexit strategy coordinator or team that can liaise and communicate across the organisation and that is clued in to the pitfalls and opportunities created by Brexit
- Take stock of your workforce, identify which employees might be affected, see how many are eligible for British citizenship, where you're dependent on EU nationals, where skills gaps might occur, and where you might have to look within to maintain your talent pool long term
- Organisations should always be reviewing and upgrading their recruitment policies and HR might need to up their game in finding new sources of talent
- One way to hang on to who you've got is to review retention strategies, employee valuation proposition and culture. Engagement and loyalty will mitigate the need for constant recruitment in what could be a very volatile market
- Communicate. Many EU workers will be worried about their future status. They will need to be kept informed and reassured that nothing will change for now, while UK staff may also worry about future plans if it looks like the business might be adversely affected by developments. Uncertainty can be a huge demotivator and could cause even those with the right to work in the UK to move on to what they might view as safer pastures
- Attitudes towards diversity within the culture should also be looked at given some unpleasant outcomes as a result of the Brexit campaign. Non nationals should be reassured that they're still an essential part of your workforce and that your role is to help them in whatever they need to remain so
- How agile is your workforce? There has never been a better time to review this and not only because of Brexit but due to the changing nature of how people see the role of their job in their lives as a whole but because the gig economy opens up new doors to borderless employment, depending on the sector. How much of the work can be done by someone remotely from halfway across the world?
- It might be time to upgrade technologies and make sure your business has all of the data it needs to make the correct business decisions going forward. Businesses with a global reach will also need to bear in mind EU data protection regulations that don't allow employee personal data to be transmitted outside the EEA without certain conditions